Health unit answers questions on COVID-19 data, contact tracing
By Sue Tiffin
As of Monday, July 27, 13 people in Haliburton County have had confirmed cases of Haliburton County. All cases but one, reported yesterday, have been resolved.
The Haliburton Echo asked the health unit some of the questions about its data and the reporting of it that readers have asked online.
Schedule of data reporting changes to three times a week
Though data was initially uploaded on the weekend and daily throughout the week, as of last week, the health unit announced the information would now be updated on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only, excluding holidays.
“The change in reporting reflects what other Ontario health units are doing and is also indicative of the relatively stable COVID-19 situation currently being seen in the area,” said Chandra Tremblay, HKPR District Health Unit spokesperson. “While HKPR staff will continue to provide daily COVID-19 case counts to the province, the reporting change will also free up time and resources for the health unit to focus more closely on general COVID-19 trends and patterns in the community. This can help to better inform HKPR’s actions to further prevent the spread of the virus in the community and assist the health unit in preparing for the next phase of the pandemic.”
The health unit is moving back into recovery mode, offering programs and services, Tremblay said, and is also adopting a new case and contact management program that replaces the integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS) being implemented by the province. The new program, said Tremblay, “requires a great deal of time to implement and train staff before the system goes live.”
Confirmed cases are primary residents in Haliburton County only
As reported by the Haliburton Echo in April, positive COVID-19 case numbers are listed under the health unit of the infected person’s primary residence, which means that the results of those testing positive in Haliburton County who typically live elsewhere are being reported by other health units despite the person having been in Haliburton County, and potentially staying here in isolation. Tremblay said this is the practice with all reportable diseases with all health units in Ontario.
In this case, could data in Ontario potentially be skewed, with some places being deemed hot spots though residents with confirmed positive tests might not be located there, or with hospitalizations occurring of people whose positive cases aren’t recorded in the region of the hospital?
“When working with reportable, communicable diseases like COVID-19, health units and health partners from across the province will work closely with each other,” said Tremblay. “For example, if a positive case resides in another area, but is isolating in the HKPR area, HKPR receives necessary notifications and updates from our public health unit partners. This is also the case with our local hospitals – the health unit works very closely with its local hospitals and will share information about cases and discuss next steps. Through contact tracing, all health units do a thorough investigation of who the confirmed case may have been in contact with during their infectious period. This information is also shared with other health units so that the local health unit may do any contact follow up that is necessary.”
Information reported excludes age, gender, town/location
When the health unit has reported confirmed cases, numerous readers have asked for more information, including where that person lives within the county – the health unit, however, does not provide information broken down by lower tier municipality or community.
“This is done because the health unit has the legal responsibility to protect personal health information it has collected under various pieces of legislation such as the Health Protection and Promotion Act,” said Tremblay. “Although it may seem that our geographic area has a large enough population to make it impossible to identify an individual, we essentially cover three counties comprised of small towns and it could be very easy to identify someone who tests positive.”
“Health units that are providing a more granular breakdown of the residence of positive cases typically have larger populations, making it more difficult to potentially identify a person who has tested positive,” said Tremblay.
Health unit follows up with contacts of people with positive test
HKPR District Health Unit staff have been busy with case and contact management, said Tremblay, noting that although the province is rolling out the new online platform to replace iPHIS, the process behind case and contact management remains the same.
The health unit follows up with anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, a process called “contact tracing.”
Individuals who are considered close contacts to someone who has COVID-19 can include family members, people living in the same household, and anyone who has had direct contact with someone with a positive COVID-19 case.
“The health unit will follow up with these close contacts and give instructions on what they need to do (like self-isolating) to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Tremblay. “The health unit will also do daily phone calls with close contacts to check in on them and ensure they follow public health directions. Health unit staff also work with anyone who has been directed to self-isolate to help ensure they have supports in place for things like grocery delivery, medical appointments and any other identified needs.”